Sunday, July 31, 2011

"They'll Pay, But They Won't Admit Responsibility"

An Inside Look at What Happens When Gas Drillers Are Exempt from Environmental Law

Rancher Chris Velasquez knows first hand what gas drilling has done to communities, and the land, water and wildlife of New Mexico.

Rancher Chris Velasquez demonstrates the viscosity of fluid leaking from the end of a TEPPCO pipeline labeled "methane" and "produced water" at the Pump Canyon Compressor station near his home. Lack of fencing or other barriers makes such toxic materials available for wildlife and livestock to drink.
Photo Credit: Doug Peacock

BLANCO, New Mexico -- Chris Velasquez sees the impacts of gas development in the San Juan Basin of northern New Mexico through the eyes of a rancher, and those of a man whose roots in this country pre-date both the gas rigs and the arrival of Anglos.

He and his dad ran cattle, until recently, on a grazing allotment called the Rosa, rolling high desert lands punctuated by bluffs and arroyos, ringed by mesas, adjacent to the Carson National Forest on the east, the Southern Ute reservation to the north, and bordered on the west by Navajo Lake. In a way, it's what's left of Velasquez' ancestral homeland. "We used to live where the Pine River and the San Juan meet up here, then when they built the lake, it either was drown or move," he says. In 1962, the Bureau of Reclamation completed a dam stretching three-quarters of a mile across the San Juan River.

The idea was to control flooding and provide irrigation water for the Navajo tribe. It also displaced Velasquez' community. "All my ancestor's on my mom's side, well on my dad's side too, came from right up here," he says. "My grandpa and my grandma on my mom's side, they were the second farm below the dam. They got chased out too. From right here on, all the people who lived here -- they were all Spanish people -- relocated. Threw them to the four winds. Scattered them all over the place."

Continue reading...   "My youngest daughter would call them the murderers," he says.

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